In May of 2023, SMART dealt a major blow to Union Pacific when, after four years, we successfully received an arbitration award that sustained our claim for protective benefits for five SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) members that were furloughed by the carrier and replaced with contractors.

On October 1, 2019, Union Pacific sent a notice to SMART stating that it was furloughing nine employees working in the Water Service Department, and that the carrier intended to contract out the work. Union Pacific refused to follow the black letter of the collective bargaining agreement and instead arbitrarily selected which of the furloughed employees would receive protective benefits, denying benefits to others.

SMART filed a claim on behalf of the members that were refused protective benefits, and the case was heard before a Special Board of Adjustment in 2021. The claim was originally denied by the arbitrator; however, SMART asserted that the board’s decision was not based on the clear language of the agreement and filed a motion to vacate in district court. The court agreed with SMART and remanded the case back to the arbitrator, which meant going through the entire arbitration process a second time.

“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job. The money will go a long way.”

RME member Don Yei

The case was heard again in March 2023 — and SMART prevailed. Union Pacific was ordered to provide protective benefits to the members’ choosing based on the options set forth in the agreement. In total, these SMART members will receive more than $840,000 in protective benefits.

“Union Pacific is a huge railroad, and it fought hard to deny the members what was rightfully theirs,” said International Representative Joe Fraley, who handled the case. “But even when times got tough, the members had SMART’s back — and SMART had theirs. Together, we fought smarter, we fought harder, and we won. That’s what being SMART is all about.”

“I am honored and humbled to represent the members — the members are the real heroes here, and they deserve every penny that they will receive,” he added. “We would not have done it without all of us working together. We would not have done it without being SMART.”

For the victorious members, the case demonstrates the material difference of union solidarity.

“I would never have gotten anything without the help of the union, without people like Joe giving their time and doing their job,” said RME member Don Yei. “The money will go a long way.”

On December 8, 2023, United States President Joe Biden and SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson announced a $6 billion investment in America’s rail infrastructure and in the value of union jobs through two high-speed rail projects in California and Nevada.

“When I ran for president, I made a commitment to build a high-speed rail worthy of America. I mean it — put our nation on track with the fastest, safest and greenest railways in the world, and high-speed,” President Biden said during an announcement event in Las Vegas, Nevada. “You have no idea how much this pleases me: At long last, we are building the first high-speed rail project in our nation’s history, and it’s starting here.

“It means growth and opportunity for towns and communities between here and the California coast. It’s on track to be completed by the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. And here’s the best part — it means jobs. Union jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs!”

“The idea of high-speed rail has been discussed in this country for decades, and it is beyond exciting to see it coming together here today,” Ferguson added. “Our members, and our brothers and sisters throughout rail labor, should see this as a day when our nation’s president and the country itself recognized our value and what we bring to the table. The skills our conductors, engineers and yardmasters possess were not an afterthought when the plans for this rail line came together. They are invaluable to this project and woven into the fabric of what will make this high-speed rail project a success.”

Labor representatives at the announcement of two U.S. high-speed rail projects with Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose in Las Vegas

This project has been years in the making and is becoming a reality now due to the public-private partnership between the federal government and the Brightline West Railroad. In plans submitted to the administration, Brightline highlighted the efficiency of this high-speed rail project, stating that trains will travel at speeds upwards of 186 mph – making it possible to get from Southern California to Las Vegas in just over two hours, a fraction of the time it takes on the highway. Other benefits include taking traffic off the heavily congested U.S. Interstate 15, as well as positive impacts on environmental emissions. This project will also bolster the economies of some of our nation’s largest cities.

As a stipulation for receiving federal funding, Brightline West committed to using an organized workforce. SMART-TD has been part of the planning for this project since the railroad made that commitment to Biden and Congress. Along with employing thousands of our brothers and sisters in the SMART Rail, Mechanical and Engineering Department, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way, Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, TCU and all of our rail labor partners, Brightline West also committed to running their trains with SMART-TD crews.

SMART Transportation Division National Legislative Director Gregory Hynes shakes hands with President Joe Biden on Friday, Dec. 8, after Biden’s announcement about funding a pair of high-speed rail projects in California and Las Vegas.

The project will provide hundreds of good, union jobs in the railroad industry, and it serves as an example of what can be accomplished when private industry, the federal government and a strong labor coalition are all pulling in the same direction.

“It’s a proud day for us, and we thank Congresswoman Dina Titus from Nevada’s First Congressional District, Congressman Steven Horsford from Nevada District 4, Congresswoman Susie Lee from Nevada’s Third District, and Nevada’s U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto, along with the Department of Transportation, and of course, President Joe Biden himself for all of their work to make this dream a reality for our men and women,” Ferguson concluded.

On June 28 and 29, General Committee 2 held its second General Convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The first such convention held since the merger of General Committees 1 and 2, this marked an important milestone: honoring and enacting the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department’s commitment to union democracy under the SMART Constitution.

Thirty-two delegates from 20 local unions were present for the purposes of electing General Committee 2 leadership, voting on changes to the bylaws, and discussing union and industry business more generally. The results of the elections reflect the department’s unity: both Directing General Chairperson John McCloskey and Financial Secretary-Treasurer/Assistant General Chairperson Jason Busolt were reelected to their roles by acclamation. Elections for other positions in General Committee 2 were also a success. Executive board members elected include Keith Petrie (Local 139), Matthew Haile (Local 78), Troy Weakland (Local 472), Craig Tallini (Local 149), Joe Persaud (Local 396), Marcus Williams (Local 363), George Jeffers (Local 462), Bill Scalia (Local 526) and Jose Navarrete (Local 209). Finally, Brian Opland (Local 165), Kevin Downing (Local 363), John Daly (Local 526) and Tom Kennedy (Local 367) were elected trustees.

General Chairperson McCloskey was proud to see such a strong interest in union democracy and was impressed by the presence of international union leaders.

“It was such a huge honor to have four presidents attend our convention,” he noted. “With so many SMART International staff in attendance, it showed the delegates that General President Coleman is committed to our department. The delegates have elected a very strong executive board, and being the best representatives for our members will be a priority. We look forward to serving our members going forward.”

During the convention, delegates also heard presentations on Railroad Retirement, FELA, insurance benefits and other topics relevant to railroaders. SMART’s Communications and Organizing Departments also gave presentations on applying their resources and expertise to the needs of RME members.

RME International Rep. Joe Fraley reflected enthusiastically on the success of the convention: “It was great to have all our local unions united in solidarity as we forge ahead together. I cannot recall ever having so many strong local union leaders ready to take on the challenges of the railroad industry. This is our time.”

International Representative Peter Kennedy is the newest addition to the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department.

Brother Kennedy started his railroad career in September 2003 in the Maintenance of Way Department of CSX Transportation and has been a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED) of the Brotherhood of Teamsters for 20 years.

Kennedy is an experienced labor relations practitioner and strategist and has a knack for special projects. Most recently, he served as director of strategic coordination and research at BMWED, a position in which he oversaw major projects and initiatives impacting railroaders, including presenting the union’s case before Presidential Emergency Board 250, implementing the National Paid Sick Leave for Railroad Workers Campaign, and creating a memorandum of understanding on Brightline West for the High-Speed Rail Labor Coalition.

International Representative Joe Fraley, whose experience working with Kennedy was instrumental for this recruitment, is extremely enthusiastic about the new hire.

“I have worked with Peter Kennedy throughout the last two rounds of national negotiations and on several other committees including CRLO, which jointly administers the Railroad National Healthcare Plan,” Fraley said. “He is a dedicated union leader who puts the members first. He is a great addition to our team.”

Likewise, General Committee 2 leadership is eager to work with Brother Kennedy and make use of his fresh perspective.

“Peter’s reputation in our industry is second to none,” said Directing General Chairperson John McCloskey. “The local officers and members of General Committee 2 will benefit so much from his knowledge and dedication.”

Financial Secretary-Treasurer Jason Busolt echoed that sentiment: “We look forward to working with him and utilizing his expertise when it comes to many different areas of the railroad. Welcome aboard, Peter!”

For outgoing International Representative Larry Holbert, Brother Kennedy’s recruitment ensures the department is in competent hands.

“Without any hesitation, I am so confident of a successful future for this department and for the entire union with the assignment of Brother Peter Kennedy,” Holbert said. “I have had the opportunity to work with Peter on numerous occasions, and I am truly impressed with his professionalism and knowledge of this industry.”

Finally, having recently become a member of SMART Local 256 (Chicago, Ill.), Kennedy is eager to show his commitment to his new role. In his own words: “I look forward to interacting with every member at every railroad across the country and getting to know what is important to them. This is our time to renew the meaning of SMART’s work and improve the workplace. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve and represent the members of the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department.”

This issue’s Rail, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department Report is from International Representative Larry Holbert:

During my 40-plus years as a railroader, I have always sought out opportunities to participate in my union, not only in the General Committee or at the International level, but also at my local union. As a lot of you have heard me say: At every level of our organization, we are only as strong as our local unions. While I’ve certainly seen a lot of changes in the last 40 years, this is one thing that has not changed — the local anchors us both to our fellow members and to our craft.

Attending local meetings over the years, I have always been fascinated when looking at each union’s original charter and reading the names and signatures of the brothers and sisters who drew on said charters to establish our locals, hold the first elections of officers and join their fellow workers in the International. The work confronting these past members required their commitment and dedication: They built their locals to be financially responsible, they drafted and adopted bylaws to govern their affairs, and they eagerly trained on their obligations at the International and on compliance with the law, learning to navigate the Department of Labor, IRS and various other regulatory agencies. Most importantly, they chose who they wanted to enforce their contracts, settle grievances, protect the rights of their members and ensure their work jurisdiction — electing their officers and, when necessary, stepping up to serve in elected roles.

The strength of our locals and the directions they have taken have always been determined by the consensus reached by membership when a local met — it was not just three or four members at meetings making decisions for the rest! Participation in one’s local not only helps members to look out for and support each other, but also builds a stronger and more resilient workforce and protects our trade. You might decide that you have better things in life to do than to attend a meeting, but when you find yourself injured on the job or terminated for not having your PPE on, you’re hoping a fellow member will be there to lend a hand. Or when the carrier gets the idea to remove all the sheet metal workers from the service tracks, you’re hoping you’ll have all your local brothers and sisters there to prove that it’s you and your fellow workers who make the trains run — not dangerous and cynical cost-saving measures.

Brothers and sisters, you need to get involved in your union, you need to serve as officers and continue getting educated; without dedicated officers, there would be no union to speak of. It’s easy to blame our current issues on past officers, but in my opinion, all it comes down to is the proper filing of claims and grievances and to the good retention of documents. Railroad workers have an excellent and effective process for handling claims and grievances under the provisions of the Railway Labor Act. Although I fully agree that nowadays this is much harder than it used to be — with the carriers assigning “labor relation experts” with very limited knowledge of the work we do to respond to our grievances — this only proves that now is the time for our local union leaders, armed with all the training and support that has been made available, to help build competitive and strong locals that are able to stand up to the carriers.

Local officers are the ones who are in the shops every day; they alone can see whether or not a contract is being lived up to, not your general chairperson and not the International. There are a lot of opportunities in this department to change things. We’re just waiting for you to get involved.

On Thursday, March 23 – after 15 months of negotiations – the TCU & Shop-Craft Coalition reached a tentative agreement with Amtrak to settle each organization’s respective Section 6 notices for this round of bargaining. The coalition is comprised of the SMART Mechanical Department (MD), the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC), National Conference of Firemen & Oilers SEIU 32BJ (NCFO), International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), Transport Workers Union (TWU), American Railway Airline Supervisor Association (ARASA), International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB) and the Transportation Communications Union (TCU).

“We appreciate the patience of our members, and we will be providing all the details of this great agreement,” the coalition said in a press release announcing the agreement.

The specific terms of the agreement have been approved by the Amtrak Board of Directors; the details will be presented to SMART MD members for ratification in the coming weeks. This article will be updated.

On November 15, 2022, the Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering (RME) Department, in conjunction with General Committee 2, held its first in-person local representative training class in more than two years. The training, which was revamped in 2022, focuses on claim/grievance and discipline handling. Seventeen attendees representing 13 local unions attended the day-long training, which outlined the responsibilities of the local representative and provided guidance for filing claims/grievances and preparing for and representing members during discipline investigations.

The response from attendees was positive. “The training was very informative,” said Chuck Mullins from Metro North in Harmon, New York.

Rex Moore from BNSF in Lincoln, Nebraska, added that “the training was great.”

The RME Department has increased its training budget in order to expand the number and frequency of trainings in 2023 and beyond. “Our goal is to provide this training on an ongoing basis for current and newly elected local representatives,” said SMART International Representative Joe Fraley.

International Representative Larry Holbert agreed, saying: “We are committed to providing future training to our local leaders, making sure that they have the knowledge, tools and skills necessary to perform their elected duties more effectively and efficiently.”

The RME Department has scheduled a training session in January on the West Coast for representatives in California, as well as a class in the Northeast in February. The third training session will be scheduled in the third quarter of the year, giving newly elected officers the opportunity to attend.

“This training is the cornerstone for our local reps, as they are the men and women on the front lines representing the membership on a daily basis,” explained General Chairperson John McCloskey. “All of our local unions are urged to participate in the training that is provided,” concluded General Committee 2 Financial Secretary- Treasurer/Assistant General Chairperson Jason Busolt. “As elected officers, it is our duty to ensure that we provide the highest level of representation to the men and women we represent.”

Members of the SMART Rail, Mechanical and Engineering Department (MD) working for Union Tank Car Company (UTLX) in Valdosta, Georgia rallied for an informational picket on Friday, November 4 — demonstrating their solidarity and showing their willingness to fight for better working conditions. SMART MD is currently negotiating a new contract at UTLX; one that will address jobsite safety, proper training and more.

“The workers took a stand in solidarity and sent a clear message to the company that they will stand in support of each other as we work toward reaching an agreement worthy of ratification,” said Joe Fraley, SMART MD international representative. “Our internal committee has done an exceptional job growing the strength of this unit.”

The primary reason UTLX employees rallied, Fraley explained, was to demand fair treatment. UTLX has refused to reward seniority for common items such as bidding vacation or job openings and has resisted considering seniority when performing workforce reductions. Additionally, employees say, the company cuts corners and bends and breaks safety policies and procedures, putting profit over the well-being of its workers. Training, as well, is a huge issue for UTLX employees: Workers say that the company regularly directs recent hires — who have little to no experience — to train new workers, perpetuating the lack of focus on safety.

“These workers deserve and are ready to demand better,” Fraley said.

They did just that on November 4. Brandishing signs that read “Strike For Safety,” “I’m A Whistleblower,” “Don’t Lie to OSHA,” “Fair Contract Now” and more, the workers gathered at the UTLX gate, sending a strong message to the company and passing drivers.

SMART commends these workers for refusing to back down in the face of unfair treatment, and we will continue to stand with members working at UTLX as they negotiate the contract they have earned!

October 12, 2022 — The membership of the SMART Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (SMART MD) has voted to ratify a tentative agreement with the carriers, after almost three years of negotiations between the union and the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC). The vote was passed with a 54% margin in favor of the negotiated contract.

The ratified contract includes historic wage increases, five annual service recognition payments, an additional paid day off and enhanced healthcare benefits. Members will immediately receive a 13.5% wage increase, and members will also receive retroactive pay and $3,000 in service recognition payments within 60 days.

“It was up to our members to decide whether to accept this agreement, and the members have made the decision to ratify a contract with the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national freight rail bargaining,” said Joseph Sellers, Jr., general president of SMART. “However, we hear the concerns of our members who may be disappointed in the outcome of this vote, and I promise that we will never stop fighting to ensure that they receive the wages, benefits and working conditions that they deserve for keeping the American economy running.”

September 11, 2022 — SMART’s Railroad, Mechanical and Engineering Department (Mechanical Department or MD) reached a tentative agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC), which includes the highest wage increases ever achieved in national freight rail bargaining. The tentative agreement provides our members with a 24% general compounded wage increase over five years. In addition, members would receive five annual service recognition payments of $1,000. Upon ratification, our members, including our retired and deceased members, will receive full retroactive pay consisting of the wage increases and service recognition payments.

Furthermore, the tentative agreement will provide an additional paid day off that can be used as either a personal leave day, a vacation day or on the employee’s birthday. Our healthcare benefits were enhanced to provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder and an increase in hearing aid benefits. There are no work rule changes or cuts to our healthcare benefits. The tentative agreement also includes a “Me Too” provision, where if another union reaches an agreement that provides more economic value, we can receive that same value in our agreement. The tentative agreement was reached based on the recommendations of Presidential Emergency Board 250.

SMART General President Joseph Sellers, Jr. stated, “After nearly three years of difficult and protracted negotiations with the carriers, I’m very pleased that our Mechanical Department members are receiving the highest wage increases we have ever seen in national bargaining. Contrary to what the carriers may say, our highly skilled members’ contributions are the reason for the carriers’ extremely high profits, and it’s about time that our members receive the fair contract that we have been fighting for, and that the carriers have been fighting against, for the past several years.”

Ratification ballots will be mailed to SMART MD freight rail members soon. While SMART MD was able to reach a tentative agreement, the Transportation Division is still negotiating with the NCCC. General President Sellers calls on the NCCC to resolve the attendance policies and working conditions impacting operating employees in order to provide a better quality of life for our brothers and sisters in the Transportation Division.